An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

Scoil Náisiúnta Tógála Mhuire

Kiltullagh, Athenry, Co. Galway

Uimhir rolla:  18097R

 

Date of inspection: 25 November 2008

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

Introduction – school context and background

Quality of school management

Quality of school planning

Quality of learning and teaching

Quality of support for pupils

Conclusion

 

 

 

Whole-school evaluation

 

A whole-school evaluation of Scoil Náisiúnta Tógála Mhuire was undertaken in November 2008. This report presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for improvement. The evaluation focused on the quality of teaching and learning in English, Irish, Mathematics and History.  The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.

 

 

Introduction – school context and background

 

Scoil Náisiúnta Tógála Mhuire is a co-educational primary school located in the village of Kiltullagh, approximately 8km from the town of Athenry in County Galway. Major infrastructural change has occurred in the area and the realignment of the N6 from Galway to Dublin is within view of the school. Enrolments have increased significantly in recent years and the school expects to be in a position to appoint a fourth mainstream teacher in the school year 2010/11. The pupils are currently divided into dual and multi-grade classes. School records indicate that there is a history of very good attendance on the part of the pupils.

 

The following table provides an overview of the enrolment and staffing in the school at the time of the evaluation:

 

 

Number

Pupils enrolled in the school

80

Mainstream classes in the school

8

Teachers on the school staff

5

Mainstream class teachers

3

Teachers working in support roles

2

Special needs assistants

1 part-time

Secretary

1 part-time

Caretaker

1 part-time

 

The school was refurbished and extended in 2003 as part of a pilot scheme for devolved building projects. The extension was designed to facilitate further expansion. The appointment of a fourth mainstream teacher will necessitate the provision of an additional classroom. The board of management is currently considering its options as regards accessing grant-aid to fund this development.

 

1.     Quality of school management

 

1.1 Characteristic spirit, mission or vision

Scoil Náisiúnta Tógála Mhuire is one of four schools in the parish of Kiltullagh under the patronage of the Catholic Bishop of Clonfert. The proximity to the school of both the local church and the community hall contributes to a very strong sense of community spirit in the school. Pupils regularly participate in local events. They prepare artistic displays of a very high standard to celebrate the various seasons of the church year and enhance religious ceremonies and local festivities with music and mime. The school’s Christian ethos and community spirit are also sustained by frequent visits from the chairperson of the board of management. In keeping with the school’s mission statement, the board of management, parents and staff work collaboratively to create a caring, happy and inclusive environment in which the needs of all pupils can be addressed, their special aptitudes identified, and their self-esteem and confidence developed.

 

1.2 Board of management

The current board of management has been in operation for a year and members have recently availed of training provided by the Catholic Primary School Management Association. The board meets at least once a term and members also give generously of their time to complete specific tasks agreed at meetings in addition to assisting with ongoing maintenance work and with the organisation of swimming and other sporting activities for the pupils. The chairperson maintains regular contact with the school and provides a very high level of support to the principal and staff. School accounts are examined annually by an accountant and presented to the board. The practice of providing a financial statement at each board meeting should now be established.

The board is cognisant of its statutory obligations and of departmental regulations and guidelines. A school plan has been formulated and includes policy statements on enrolment, health and safety, attendance, discipline and a draft policy on child protection. The school issues an annual newsletter and the board is considering its adaptation to fulfil the requirements in relation to issuing an annual report on the operation of the school. The board to date has been involved mainly in the ratification of policy and is encouraged to take an active role in future policy formulation and review. All policies documents have review dates and specific areas of work have been identified for immediate attention including finalisation of the policy on child protection, the provision of additional accommodation and increased usage of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the school. It is suggested that a three-year strategy development plan should now be drawn up in which priorities relating to all aspects of the work can be set out within targeted timeframes.

 

Continuous professional development is recognised as an important aspect of school life and the board supports the organisation of regular staff meetings and of staff attendance at appropriate courses. It would be of benefit to extend the staff development policy to include information on courses provided by both the Leadership Development for Schools initiative and the Special Education Support Service. It would also be of value to reference initiatives focussed on promoting the use of ICT in education and those fostering communication between teachers on a national and international basis. The policy should also indicate the school’s internal practices in relation to providing opportunities for the teaching staff to gain experience in different roles and at different class levels in the school.

 

The board is committed to providing a safe, clean and well-resourced school in which all aspects of the curriculum can be implemented. The board acknowledges the generosity of parents and of the wider community who regularly support fund-raising ventures to augment school resources. The board pays tribute in particular to the work of former board members who managed the refurbishment and extension of the school premises using a devolved grant supplemented by local funding. The school now provides an office, staffroom, learning-support room and three large classrooms, two of which incorporate toilet facilities and storage areas. Outside there is a hard-surface play area and a grassed pitch. The school lacks indoor facilities for Physical Education but has access to a community tennis court and a small community hall which are located adjacent to the school site. Due to increasing enrolments, an additional classroom is likely to be required for the school year 2010/11. A resource-teaching room and further storage facilities are also required. The board is currently considering the timeframes involved and the most cost-effective manner in which additional accommodation can be provided.

 

The board identifies the involvement of parents, the commitment of the chairperson and the work of the principal and staff as major strengths of the school. It reports a high level of satisfaction with the overall provision in the school  

 

1.3 In-school management

The in-school management team comprises the principal and deputy principal. The principal is dedicated and hard-working and provides a very good role model in classroom practice. School routines are effectively implemented and communication with the staff, board and parent body is conducted in a very open and professional manner. The principal displays fine leadership qualities and encourages a progressive approach to all aspects of provision in the school. The principal is very ably supported by the deputy principal whose specific duties span an extensive range of pastoral, organisational and curricular work. Both post holders work in close collaboration to foster a positive school climate in which the skills and expertise of all staff members are recognised, acknowledged and fostered. Opportunities are provided for the sharing of individual strengths and abilities, and all staff members assume responsibility for co-ordinating curricular planning and disseminating information in relation to specific curricular areas. It would be of value now to establish a practice of regularly reviewing the duties of posts of responsibility and of providing an annual report to the board on the work carried out in relation to those duties.

 

1.4 Management of relationships and communication with the school community

The board is very conscious of the importance of working in partnership with the parent body. It also maintains effective links with former parents, past pupils and other members of the community. While the size of the school facilitates frequent contact with parents, a number of specific practices promote ongoing communication. Letters and notes are regularly issued to inform parents of upcoming events and of changes or developments in school policy. Homework journals are used to very good effect to maintain communication between individual teachers and parents. A newsletter is issued at Christmas time which attracts a broad readership and the school periodically organises public presentations of artwork, project work, class plays and school concerts. Although parent-teacher meetings are held each term during which parents receive an oral report on their children’s progress, it is recommended that the school should now commence the practice of issuing written reports each year.

 

The school does not have a parents’ association but parents are actively involved in supporting the ethos and work of the school. Parents facilitate pupil participation in religious ceremonies, community events and sporting activities. There is considerable parental and local involvement in maintaining the school premises, in setting up and repairing equipment, in assisting with the supervision of pupils at arrival and dismissal times, and in supporting fundraising activities. The school values the donations of equipment and the proceeds from community fund-raising events which it has received. Of late, parents have been instrumental in organising activities in a neighbouring village community centre specifically for the pupils of the school. The formation of a parents’ association would provide further opportunities for parents to become involved in the work of the school, particularly in the area of policy development. The board purports to be favourably disposed towards the formation of an association should it be proposed by the parents.

 

1.5 Management of pupils

The pupils are very well managed with positive behaviour being promoted through the implementation of a behaviour code that aims to develop a happy environment which is structured but at the same time relaxed. School practices and activities support pupils in developing respect for themselves and others, and for property and the environment. Music and song are used in a particularly engaging manner to develop good habits among the younger pupils. As the pupils advance through the different class levels they are encouraged to broaden their interests and to enhance their skills and confidence by engaging in a wide range of activities. Pupils are provided with opportunities to present project work using ICT; they help maintain the school garden; they learn how to swim; they participate in Cumann na mBunscol events and compete in quizzes and competitions which span various curricular areas. The pupils are lively, happy and very mannerly and they display pride and interest in their work.

 

 

2.     Quality of school planning

 

2.1 Whole-school and classroom planning

The quality of planning is good. The teachers work with school-cluster groups and engage with the Primary Professional Development Services in drafting policy statements. While some draft policies are circulated to parents, the process generally entails parents being notified that draft documents are available for viewing in the school prior to their presentation at board meetings for discussion, amendment if necessary and ratification. The school would benefit from increased levels of involvement of the board and parents in the whole-school planning process in the future.

 

The school plan comprises a range of well articulated organisational policies which are pertinent to the needs and context of the school. Curricular policies address the strands and strand units of the curriculum and provide valuable guidance on the use of a broad range of methodologies, strategies and approaches. The teachers are currently engaged in finalising the school policy on assessment and in developing a policy on Drama. It is praiseworthy that curriculum implementation is reviewed each year and that aspects warranting attention are agreed and recorded. Further development of the school plan should incorporate a review of the admissions policy and should focus in some curricular areas on clarifying the progression in content as pupils move from class to class in the dual and multi-grade class situation.

 

Classroom planning is prepared using an agreed school template which is adapted by individual teachers to present differentiated programmes of learning for the different class groupings. The planning for the most part is clear and comprehensive.

 

2.2 Child protection policy and procedures

Confirmation was provided that the board of management has discussed the adoption of the Child Protection Guidelines for Primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2001). A designated liaison person (DLP) and a deputy DLP have been appointed in line with the requirements of the guidelines. Confirmation was also provided that a draft copy of the child protection procedures for the school has been prepared and brought to the attention of management and the school staff. These procedures are to be presented to board again for discussion and for formal adoption following attendance of the designated liaison person at an in-service training session which is scheduled to take place immediately after this evaluation.  

 

 

3.     Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1 Language

 

Gaeilge

Baintear leas as an gcur chuige cumarsáideach go forleathan sa scoil chun an Ghaeilge a mhúineadh. Cleachtar modhanna agus straitéisí éagsúla ag na rangleibhéil dhifriúla chun na ceithre scil teanga a chur chun cinn ar bhealach taitneamhach comhtháite.

 

Cothaítear cumas agus muinín i mbun labhartha, aithriseoireachta agus cantaireachta go cruthaitheach sna bunranganna. Spreagtar na daltaí go luath chun caint shoiléir leanúnach a chleachtadh agus nathanna simplí a úsáid tríd síos an lá scoile. Cuirtear leis an dea-obair seo agus na daltaí ag dul in aois sa scoil. Cuirtear ar a gcumas réimse cuí foclóra a thuiscint agus a úsáid, raon breá filíochta a aithris, cnuasach deas amhrán a chanadh agus tuiscint mheasartha mhaith a ghnóthú ar láimhseáil na mbriathra. Tá moladh tuillte ag na hoidí as an stró a chuireann siad orthu féin Gaeilge a labhairt chun deiseanna rialta a thabhairt do na daltaí an teanga a chloisteáil á labhairt go nádúrtha. Déantar an Ghaeilge a úsáid freisin i roinnt ranganna le linn de ghnéithe eile den churaclam a mhúineadh. Ba thairbheach an dea-chleachtas seo a fhorleathnú sa scoil. Moltar freisin fothéamaí a aimsiú faoi na mórtheamaí teanga sa phlean scoile agus réimse na hoibre ag gach rangleibhéal a chlárú ann chun treoir chinnte a thabhairt maidir leis an bhforchéimniú atá i gceist ó rang go rang.

 

Cothaítear timpeallacht saibhir sa phrionta chun tacú le gníomhaíochtaí léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta. Spreagtar dúil sa léitheoireacht agus sa scríbhneoireacht i dtosach báire trí leabhair bheaga a léamh agus a dhéanamh. Baintear leas as sraith téacsleabhar den chuid is mó ina dhiaidh sin mar bhunús do thascanna léitheoireachta agus scríbhneoireachta. Ba thairbheach leas a bhaint as réimse níos leithne d’ábhar agus idir fhíorleabhair, scéalta, filíocht, amhráin, seanfhocail, tomhais agus samhlacha a úsáid chun stór nathanna a chur i seilbh na ndaltaí gur féidir leo tarraingt orthu agus iad i mbun scríbhneoireachta. B’fhiú scríbhneoireacht phearsanta a chleachtadh ar bhonn rialta agus feidhm a bhaint as smeach-chairt ag rangleibhéil cuí chun nuacht, altanna beaga agus tuairisicí gearra a chlárú i gcomhar leis na daltaí.

 

 Irish

The communicative approach is used throughout the school to teach Irish. Various methodologies and strategies are employed at the different class levels to develop the four language skills in an integrated and enjoyable manner.

 

Competence and confidence in speaking, reciting and singing is creatively developed in the junior classes. The pupils are encouraged at an early stage to practise continuous speech and to use simple phrases throughout the school day. This good work is built upon as the pupils get older in the school. They are enabled to understand and use an appropriate range of vocabulary, to recite a lovely range of poetry, to sing a nice collection of songs and to develop a reasonably good understanding of the handling of verbs. The teachers deserve praise for the efforts they make to speak Irish in order to provide regular opportunities for the pupils to hear the language being spoken naturally. Irish is also used in some classes during the teaching of other curricular areas. This good practice should be extended in the school. It is also recommended that sub-themes be identified under the major language themes in the school plan and the extent of the work at each class level be recorded in order to provide a clear indication of the intended progression from class to class.

 

A print rich environment is cultivated to support reading and writing activities. The impulse to read and write is fostered initially through reading and making small books. A series of textbooks is mainly used after that as a basis for reading and writing tasks. It would be of benefit to use a wider range of materials including real books, stories, poetry, proverbs, riddles and comparisons in order to enable the pupils to gain possession of a store of phrases which they could draw upon while engaged in writing. It would also be of value to practise personal writing on a regular basis and to use a flip-chart at appropriate class levels to record news, small paragraphs and short reports written in collaboration with the pupils. 

 

English

A very good range of methodologies is used in the teaching of English. Instruction is effectively paced at each class level and creatively integrated with other curricular areas. Listening skills are carefully fostered from an early age and praiseworthy emphasis is placed on providing opportunities for pupils to engage in talk and discussion, to retell stories and recount events. Strategies such as ‘show and tell’ and news are developed from class to class culminating in the use of a news board at senior level to elicit responses to media reports. A high standard of classroom display supports oral language activities in the junior and middle standards while very effective use is made of ICT at senior level to enhance communication skills. The school’s approach to the teaching of poetry is also to be commended. A deep appreciation and understanding of poetry is fostered through exposing pupils to a wide range of poetry at each class level. Very high standards of oral recitation are achieved throughout the school and the analysis of poetry at senior level is commendable.

 

Appealing rhymes, stories, songs and games are used very effectively to develop phonological and phonemic awareness in the junior classes and pupils display a firm knowledge of the letter-sound relationships. A consistent approach to the teaching of spelling contributes thereafter to the attainment of good standards in reading and writing at senior class level. Attractive library areas feature in each classroom and a broad range of materials, strategies and approaches is used to provide differentiated reading and writing experiences. Praiseworthy attention is given to developing clarity of speech and fluency in reading and pupils are acutely aware of how to engage an audience through expressive delivery. Support teachers effectively collaborate with the class teachers to address individual needs in relation to literacy. A shared-reading programme and a ‘buddy’ system are implemented at different stages of the school year.

 

Writing competencies are developed through a broad range of activities including the organisation of pre-writing activities, free-writing periods and modelling of the writing process. Pupils are provided with opportunities to write in a variety of genres and for different audiences. Judicious use is made of textbooks and workbooks to support the writing activities. Written work in general is neatly presented and is regularly monitored. It is suggested that the school should develop a policy on the use of copybooks and should also review the effectiveness of current strategies for developing a cursive style of handwriting.

 

3.2 Mathematics

The teaching of mathematics is effectively structured and very well differentiated at each class level. Mathematically rich classroom environments are maintained throughout the school and incorporate attractive displays of materials, prompt charts, pupils’ work and cross-curricular projects involving mathematical activities. Particular emphasis is placed on developing understanding of mathematical language, symbolism and terminology and on facilitating memorisation of number facts. Group work and practical activity are regular features of the work at each class level and a very good range of materials is available to support teaching and learning across the various strand units.

 

Pupils are introduced to early mathematical activities through structured play and the skilful use of rhymes, song, story, games and clapping activities. Praiseworthy opportunities are provided for exploration and manipulation of materials. Confidence in handling materials continues to be fostered at higher class levels where textbooks and worksheets are used judiciously to manage and guide differentiated activities. Pupils present with a positive attitude towards mathematics and clearly enjoy the variety of games used to aid and consolidate learning. Most pupils display a firm understanding of the concepts covered and recall number facts accurately.  Rounding and estimation skills are practised with confidence and written operations are recorded very neatly. Progress in Mathematics is regularly assessed and commendable work has commenced in relation to the analysis of standardised test results and the identification of areas for focussed attention. 

 

3.3 History

The school adopts a holistic, integrated approach to the teaching of history and places strong emphasis on using the local environment for historical enquiry. Many topics are explored concurrently in History, Geography and Science and the work is carefully integrated with other curricular areas. Classroom and corridor displays attest to the comprehensive nature of the investigations.

 

Traditional stories, legends, personal and family histories, old games and pastimes are explored creatively to enhance understanding of time and chronology. The changing face of the local landscape gives rise to studies of signage, place names, castle life, modes of transport and the effects of famine and emigration. Songs, ballads, stories, poems and art activities are intertwined with topic investigations to stimulate interest and deepen understanding. Pupils develop skills of enquiry through using artefacts, photographs, interviews, surveys and the internet. Current media reports are used to very good effect to direct attention to events which constitute history-in-the-making. Pupils are provided with opportunities to express their opinions and to discuss the causes and impact of change. Commendable use is made of ICT for presenting studies to other class groupings, to parents and the local community. Pupils in general are enthusiastic about History. They describe their investigations ably and recount in detail the information they have sourced.

 

The school is currently building up resources to support further historical enquiry. Personnel with knowledge of the local area and with a special interest in history have been identified. Members of the board, staff, parents, and the local community are actively engaged in sourcing artefacts, old photographs, maps and documents for the school. In order to reflect the full extent of the work in History, it would be of value to identify the topics to be explored at each class level in the school plan and to outline the manner in which the investigations will be approached in the multi-grade situation.

 

3.4 Assessment

The school is developing a clear rationale for assessment. The teachers are exploring the use of a broad range of assessment modes to monitor pupil progress, inform reporting and direct the planning and organisation of teaching and learning activities. Checklists, spelling tests, dictation exercises, book reviews, reading logs, oral presentations and teacher observation are among the strategies used to monitor progress in literacy and oracy. The Belfield Infant Assessment Profile is used to identify early learning difficulties while standardised tests are used appropriately to screen older pupils for learning support. Objective-based tests, multiple choice assessments and regular correction and analysis of written assignments form the basis of assessment across other curricular areas. Standardised test results have recently been recorded to facilitate the future tracking of individual progress in English and Mathematics. Teachers are also compiling individual assessment folders for each pupil. These folders will be passed from class to class and will contain test results and samples of works across a range of curricular areas. Assessment results should now be used to inform the expansion of early intervention practices and the organisation of in-class support. Parents receive oral progress reports during parent-teacher meetings and the school is advised to proceed with plans to issue written reports each year. 

 

 

4.     Quality of support for pupils

 

4.1 Pupils with special educational needs

Two teachers and a part-time special needs assistant work in close collaboration with the class teachers to provide for the needs of pupils identified with learning difficulties and special educational needs. Policy on learning-support and special education, and guidelines for the special needs assistant are documented. Pupils are selected for learning-support on the basis of appropriate screening procedures and resource teaching is provided in line with assessments and professional reports. Supplementary teaching is provided in both English and Mathematics. Specific activities are also organised to address individual needs in relation to social, physical and life skills. Pupils are withdrawn from class and receive support in one-to-one or small group settings. The school is a designated base under the general allocation system and the teachers have endeavoured to organise the support provision in a manner which sustains continuity for the pupils while enabling a service to be provided to two neighbouring schools. The board of management is of the opinion that the school’s general allocation is now no longer adequate as enrolments have increased substantially since it was initially calculated.

 

Individual learning programmes are prepared and are regularly reviewed in consultation with class teachers and parents. The level of engagement with other professional personnel involved in identifying the pupils’ educational needs is praiseworthy. The teachers clearly use the programmes to guide the organisation of teaching and learning activities. To assist in evaluating progress, it would be of benefit to state more precisely the baseline of competencies from which some of the programmes commence. The teachers establish a very good rapport with the pupils and structure and pace learning activities to good effect. The activities are noted on a daily basis to provide a cumulative record of the work covered. The teachers have now undertaken to also provide short-term forward planning. Due to a shortage of ancillary rooms, the staffroom is used in conjunction with the learning-support room for supplementary teaching activities. There is a need to provide more appropriate accommodation to facilitate the use of writing boards and the display of charts, materials and pupils’ work. Consideration should also be given to the organisation of in-class support where appropriate.

 

 

5.     Conclusion

 

The school has strengths in the following areas:

 

 

The following key recommendations are made in order to further improve the quality of education provided by the school:

 

 

Post-evaluation meetings were held with the staff and the board of management where the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.

 

 

 

Published May 2009